From the Midwest, Cedar Hill is an award-winning bluegrass band known for its strong songwriting, vocal and instrumental skills. The group originally was formed in 1967 by mandolinist Frank Ray. They perform Darren Haverstick’s song called “Pearl” on their 2007 album entitled Portrait of a Song: The Drasco Sessions. Cedar Hill features Frank Ray (mandolin, vocals), Mel Besher (guitar, vocals), Lisa Ray (fiddle, vocals), Kenny Cantrell (banjo), Irl Hees (bass, vocals), and Kevin Strain (guitar, banjo). Guests include Ferrell ‘Stobro’ Stowe (resonator guitar, Oahu guitar) and Robert Bowlin (guitar). Following the band’s stellar Stories album, this was their second release on the reputable Hay Holler label that is known for its stalwart advocacy of traditionally-based bluegrass.
Recorded over a three-day period in December, 2005 at Raney Studio in Drasco, Arkansas, the album is also subtitled as The Drasco Sessions. Engineer Jon Raney did a fine job capturing the Cedar Hill sound, charm and mystique. While they have a distinctively traditional stamp, their music’s demeanor emphasizes originality. On the album, 13 of the 15 songs are new originals like “Pearl.”
Cedar Hill has a knack for knowing what it takes to be a great bluegrass song. Their originals have clear messages, smoothly flowing melodies, uncomplicated chord progressions, and lyrics that grab your attention. A few weeks ago, we posted songs on Star Maker Machine that covered storytelling. Ballads with evocative, loving or uplifting statements are some of my favorites. Haverstick’s “Pearl” is a tale of time passing and affection of a man for his hunting dog. In fact, you can see that some folks on You Tube have even uploaded videos with photos of their old family hunting dog to the music of the song.
I see a comment from the band’s mandolin-player Frank Ray in response to one of the touching videos. “It blesses my heart. That is a beautiful, true song written by a wonderful friend about his dad. They were from my part of the Ozarks.” The songwriter’s brother (Dale Haverstick) also posted a comment: “My brother Darren Haverstick wrote this song that Cedar Hill did an awesome job with. I showed him your video and he thought it was AWESOME! If you look at the CD cover for ‘Portrait of a Song’ … there is a picture of a man and a Walker hound. That is our dad and the real Pearl. Thanks so much for your great video!”
In keeping with their personalized signature sound, Cedar Hill’s Portrait of a Song album emphasizes story songs typically presented with slower to moderate tempos that allow the group to accentuate the messages of their compelling narratives. Their songs paint pictures that dramatically describe life’s ups and downs without dwelling on them. I’ve always appreciated Cedar Hill’s music because their messages resonate with consolation, inspiration, and resolve.